The History of the Hamburger: The Story of the World’s Greatest Sandwich

Updated on October 29, 2018
David Halk profile image

An avid eater of hamburgers, I delve into the origins and history of this delectable sandwich.

The Hamburger, Lunch of Millions

The hamburger. Just say it, and everybody knows what you mean. It is so simple in its most basic form: a cooked patty of ground beef between two buns. But the sandwich has flourished so successfully that it has evolved into many distinct and tasty variations, from the humble cheeseburger to the towering triple-decker with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, mushrooms, onion straws, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, and special sauce. That’s a lot to get your mouth around, but the hamburger is so delectable that many people are willing to try. The hamburger has become a staple meal for millions of people across the globe. They’ve been around since we were kids, but where did it all begin? Let’s have a look into the past…the deep past for the answer.

Mongol Cavalry. They may be sitting on some precursor burger patties there.
Mongol Cavalry. They may be sitting on some precursor burger patties there.

The Ancestor of the Hamburger Carried Forth in Conquest

Mongol leader Genghis Khan, who lived from 1162 to 1227, rode with his armies from Northeast Asia and conquered most of the lands of Europe and Asia. His cavalry, busy men as they were, were hungry and needed to eat on the go. So they would scrape cuts of meat off sheep and form them into patties. These patties were put under their saddles while they rode and the constant jarring between the seat and the back of the horse tenderized the meat until it was soft, then eaten by the soldiers raw. Thus the progenitor of the hamburger was spawned beneath the rear of a Mongol warrior and the back of a horse.

Genghis Khan’s grandson, Khubilai Khan, couldn’t stop where Grandpa did and invaded Moscow in 1238, where the Russians adopted their invaders’ ground meat into their own dish named steak tartare. During the 1600’s, shipping trade opened between the German port of Hamburg and Russian ports. The Russian steak tartare was brought back to Germany and called tartare steak.

A copy of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy cookbook
A copy of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy cookbook

The Cookbook That Transformed Dinners in the Old World and the New

During the mid-18th century, England experienced a surge of German immigrants. Along with them came their culinary tastes, and in particular they relished their tartare steak. A cookbook called The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy was published in England in 1747. Written by Hannah Glasse, the book includes 972 recipes for a wide variety of dishes, as well as instructions for medicines and housekeeping tips. Among the recipes is one called “Hamburgh Sausage” which consisted of chopped beef, suet, and spices served with toasted bread. Hannah’s book is widely considered to be the first modern English language cookbook, as it was written in plain, simple terms for the commoners, rather than the elaborate and complex cookbooks written in French for professionals at the time. Because of this accessibility, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy became a hugely popular cookbook for many decades since its publication in both England and Colonial America, where it was published in 1805.

Claims to the Invention of the Hamburger

There are many claims for the invention of the modern hamburger dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Some of the claimants are, to name a few: Louis Lassen, Charlie Nagreen, Fletcher Davis, Frank and Charles Menches, Oscar Bilby, and Otto Kuase. There is no hard evidence for any of these claims, as they are stories told by descendant family members or other third-hand accounts. With no written or otherwise documented proof of origin, any or none of these could be the real inventor of the hamburger.

A couple of more verifiable sources are better candidates for the birth of the hamburger. A close cousin of the hamburger was popular in Hamburg. In 1869 it was called "Rundstück Warm", which translates to "bread roll warm", and was said to be a meal for emigrants on their way to America. In 1847 the Hamburg America Line, a transatlantic shipping enterprise established in Hamburg, Germany, was reported to have served Hamburg steak between two pieces of bread to emigrants embarking to America. Either of these accounts might have been the invention of the hamburger and given it its name.

The 1904 World's Fair
The 1904 World's Fair

Evangelizing the Burger

Just as Paul was the great herald of Jesus, bringing him worldwide recognition, so was the 1904 World’s Fair the herald of the hamburger. Held in St. Louis, Missouri, this fair is the purported birthplace of many American foods, such as the hot dog, peanut butter, the club sandwich, iced tea, the ice cream cone, and cotton candy…and the humble hamburger. It may not have been where the first hamburger was made and served, but the 1904 World’s Fair created an explosion in the hamburger’s popularity. The fair sprawled out across two square miles and was the largest fair in history at its time. Sixty-two countries and forty-two states had vendors there to display their cultures to the public, who turned out in droves to experience all the products, inventions, and food they had to offer. Several small vendors served hamburgers to the crowds, who then spread the news of the fantastic sandwich to their respective hometowns and countries. Those tiny vendors at that fair came and went quickly, and their identities cannot be traced, but because of them the popularity of the hamburger radiated across America and throughout the world.

Wimpy, hamburger con.
Wimpy, hamburger con.

The Wimpy Connection

Wimpy, a character in the comic strip “Popeye”, began appearing in the comic in 1931. Known for loving hamburgers, he helped popularize hamburgers in America. Always trying to con anybody for a burger, he was famous for saying, “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Cars, Fast Food, and the World

The advent of the automobile ushered in the age of the fast food restaurant. The ease and speed of driving a car was soon translated to the food industry as restaurants began catering to the needs and schedules of people on the go. The first fast food restaurant was White Castle, a hamburger joint that opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1916.

A successful format for the early fast food restaurants was serving customers as they sat in their cars, catered to by an employee that would walk out to them to deliver their order. Over the next few decades, methods of the fast food restaurant were refined and perfected until by 1951 the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s first inclusion of the term ensured it became a household term. It was at this same time that McDonald’s became a favorite of the American public. McDonald’s staple item was the hamburger, and in 1968 they introduced their famous Big Mac burger to the nation. The hamburger has been so popular around the world that now McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s have chains worldwide.

The burger menu has greatly expanded over the decades to include cheeseburgers, bacon burgers, mushroom and Swiss burgers, and hundreds more variations. The hamburger is served in many venues nowadays, such as the aforementioned fast food restaurant, steak houses, diners, carnivals and fairs, curbside vendors, backyard grills, and dinner plates in millions of homes. What began over two hundred and fifty years ago as a modest patty on bread has boomed across the planet to be enjoyed by millions.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • David Halk profile imageAUTHOR

        David Halk 

        12 months ago from Pennsylvania

        Thank you, John E Bailor! Enjoy those burgers!

      • John E Bailor profile image

        John E Bailor 

        12 months ago

        Enjoyed this article. Now I want to enjoy some burgers!

      • David Halk profile imageAUTHOR

        David Halk 

        12 months ago from Pennsylvania

        It was quite a surprise when I found out, but it actually makes sense to keep a patty of meat under the seat. Keeps it warm too, I would imagine!

      • Larry Slawson profile image

        Larry Slawson 

        12 months ago from North Carolina

        Really interesting. I had never heard that about Genghis Khan haha. Thank you for sharing.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)